Know the Warning Signs and Solutions.
These days, it seems like there is a new scam hitting the streets almost daily.
Many of us probably have gotten the purported calls from the “IRS,” claiming we owe immediate back taxes or the county sheriff will be coming to arrest us. There also are the home repair and maintenance senior scammers, who are particularly fond of targeting seniors and boomers. And unfortunately, there also are certain individuals who pretend to be a trusted friend and advisor, but end up cheating seniors and boomers out of their savings or more.
It can be hard for even the savviest of consumers to realize when they are being set up, but even more so for the boomers and traditionalists generations. Boomers include those born between 1946 and 1964, while traditionalists are those born in 1945 or earlier. Traditionalists, in particular, are scammed more easily due to their trusting nature. Traditionalists were raised during a time when trusting your neighbor and sharing what you had with others was a common value. It can be difficult for that generation to get out of the habit of helping others, even when the people they think they are helping are not worthy of their “help.”
Top Senior Scams
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seniors and boomers are an attractive target for many senior scammers. The top reason they are prime targets is because most seniors have “nest eggs.” Senior scammers also know that seniors are less likely to report fraud because they are either too embarrassed to admit they were scammed, or they do not know how or where to report the fraud.
Among the most popular senior scams being perpetrated are:
- Medicare/Health Insurance – in this scam, fraudsters pretend to be a representative from Medicare and con individuals into providing personal information over the phone that can later be used to commit identity fraud.
- Funeral and Cemetery – The FBI has issued warnings about two types of scams under this category. The first is senior scammers use published obituaries to pick a target, show up at a funeral, and then pretend to be a long-lost friend or relative of the deceased in an attempt to get money. The second involves disreputable funeral homes that take advantage of an older person’s confusion with costs associated with funerals, and will tack on charges for services that were not performed, or over-charge for the services that are being included.
- Telemarketing – Perhaps the easiest opportunity for senior scammers is hanging on the wall in most seniors’ homes: the telephone. Even with the Do Not Call list, scammers are rarely deterred from calling individuals in an attempt to get sensitive information. They may pretend to be the FBI, the IRS, your credit card company or even a charity. Many seniors are quick to believe these senior scammers, and often provide “confirmation” of sensitive information such as birth dates and social security numbers that scammers can later use to commit identity fraud.
One of the most recent – and perhaps the most devious – scams out there today is known as the “grandparent” scam. Fraudsters will randomly call an elderly person, and when they answer the phone, say “hi grandma (or grandpa), do you know who this is?” When the senior says the name of the grandchild they think is calling, the fraudster has everything they need to scam a little cash out of the person. They may make up a story about being in jail, or being stranded somewhere while on vacation after losing their wallet, and convince the senior to send them some cash to help them out. When this scam is pulled, the perpetrator usually asks for the money to be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram, which do not require identification to collect. The FBI recommends that if you get one of these calls, hang up with the person and immediately call the grandchild you think has contacted you to verify if the scenario is legitimate.
Home repair schemes also are a huge issue for seniors, many of whom are physically incapable of doing the work themselves, so they are happy to hire someone else to do it for them. The problem is, senior scammers know this, and they often target the elderly, convincing them to pay for work that is either not completed, or not completed as promised. Never pay for home repairs or maintenance in advance of the work being completed, and insist on the finished work being inspected by a trusted friend or family member before payment is issued.
I’ve Been Scammed…Now What?
There are two scenarios that almost always occur when a senior is being scammed. Sometimes, a family member or trusted friend realizes the senior is being scammed, but cannot convince the person that it is happening.
For instance, if you suspect a senior is a victim of the above-mentioned “funeral” scam – but they won’t listen to reason when you approach them about it – it may be best to contact the local police with your suspicions and ask them to investigate. You also can call the National Adult Protective Services Association, which handles cases of suspected abuse and fraud in seniors and boomers. From the NAPSA website, select the state of residence for the senior being targeted, and then select one of the resources provided for that state. Elder abuse laws and regulations vary from state to state, so it is best to make sure you are up-to-date on how your state will handle the situation before trying to intervene.
If a senior or boomer has been the victim of a financial fraud, the first step is to contact the local police and report it. In some instances, if large amounts of money have been stolen, or under certain circumstances, the crime may fall into federal jurisdiction, and the FBI may be called in to investigate as well.
The most important thing if you or a senior you know is a victim is to report it immediately to the proper authorities. Do not wait, as the longer it takes to report a crime, the easier it is – especially for older persons – to confuse the facts of the event, which will be important for prosecuting the fraudsters involved. Yes, being the victim of a crime can be embarrassing, but do not keep silent as a means of protecting your ego. Criminals are hoping that will happen, which makes it far easier for them to go on and take advantage of someone else.
Want to learn more ways to secure your retirement and protect yourself financially as you age? Consider attending the next Upside of Downsizing conference, being held September 30 at the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Portland, OR. Registration information is available here.